NEW YORK — Raymond Arroyo admits, and he suspects many other Catholics are in the same boat, that for a long time all he knew of Dismas, also known as the “Good Thief,” was that he was one of the men that walked with and was crucified next to Jesus.
After digging deeper into Dismas’ story, however, the EWTN host realized there was more to it than that final act, and decided to share the backstory in the form of a picture book for families.
“The Thief Who Stole Heaven,” written by Arroyo and illustrated by Randy Gallegos is set to be released on March 9 as the second installment of his Legend Series.
“This story, it points you back to the marrow of that original tale and it forces you to look at it in a new way. It’s a slightly different perspective and I think it turns the lights on for that story again. It gives the story more meaning in a way because we’ve taken it for granted,” Arroyo said.
The first installment of the series, “The Spider Who Saved Christmas,” was released last fall. Arroyo is also the author of the “Will Wilder” children’s adventure series.
Recently, Arroyo spoke with Crux about his new book.
Crux: What was it that drew you to the story of Dismas?
Arroyo: I stumbled across reading St. Augustine, and Augustine has a very interesting origin of Dismas and I thought, why haven’t I ever heard this tale? As I dug around I found there’s a whole canon of literature and homilies and sermons and theological musings on the Good Thief and his backstory so I synthesized all of those and I wrapped them in my own narrative here to connect the dots.
All we know of Dismas really is that final act, that last frame. This gives you what went before. It deepens and enriches that last act and then we go on what happened afterwards, which we don’t hear about either. Everybody forgets before the apostles, before the blessed mother, before any pope of kind, it was this thief, this killer, who entered the kingdom of heaven. He is in many ways the first story of Easter, and we forget that.”
How did you know this was a story that was right for a picture book, a family read?
What I love about it is, a child is only going to be able to take in so much of this. So, there’s adventure in the foreground for them. There’s a visually captivating and rollicking ride of this child who is misused by this band of thieves, taught the ways of thievery and robbery. He makes really bad choices and grace smashes into his life. He literally sends that grace away and then it comes back to haunt him later in life. The arc of that tale is entertaining to a young person.
To an older person, someone who lived a little bit, they’re going to see deeper into that. They’re going to catch the deeper resonances of the piece and some of the visual cues we’ve layered in here. It’s a fun way to tell a story.
What are the lessons, the takeaways, from Dismas’ story?
The story it tells, the tale it tells is of mercy, of hope, of second chances. That God gives you a lot of chances to make the right decision. Even more than he does opportunities to make the wrong ones. That no one is ever forgotten once seen by God and I think we’re all seen by God.
Here, Dismas is literally seen by him. And that glance of God becomes an important theme in the book. God looking upon his creation with love and never forgetting him no matter how bad the choices he made. No matter how despoiled the path that the person may have created for themselves. None are lost. None are truly lost.
How important is it for people to remember these origin stories of the Catholic church and not just focus on the divisive issues of today?
Remember, when Jesus walked the earth he didn’t engage in political polemics. He could’ve very well and very easily taken on Pontius Pilot and rivaled his authority if that had been his gig. He clearly could have done that and that’s kind of a cool alternative universe to think about. But, it’s not what he did. He didn’t come for that reason. He came to save souls, to preach salvation and show a different way.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg